Parents are the silver bullet for kids in poverty

Parents, not teachers, are the “silver bullet” for kids in poverty, writes Pérsida Himmele in Charting My Own Course on Ed Week Teacher.

Her immigrant father, who had an eighth-grade education, asked all seven of his children the same question. “To what college you go?”

 Though we lived in the poorest neighborhood, surrounded by rampant drug use, teen pregnancy, and violence, we all followed through on his expectations for us. Our highest earned degrees consist of two PhDs, two master’s degrees, one theology degree, one bachelor’s degree, and one high school diploma (earned by my sister, who has special needs). Our success was no accident.

Now an education professor, Himmele tells future teachers to help parents understand that their expectations are likely to determine their children’s future.

Do the parents in high-poverty areas know that the schools can’t educate their children alone? Do parents of children at-risk know that the odds are against their children, unless they start pressuring their children to do well in school, and pressuring the school to do well by their child? Do Latino and Black families know that in some urban programs, their children’s chances for completing high school are less than 50 percent? Do they realize that if their child drops out he or she will be working twice as hard for less than half the pay as compared to their college-bound friends? Do they know that a dropout is eight times more likely to end up in prison than a high school graduate?

She tells parents in high-poverty areas about the choices: “Your kids can work twice as hard for a little while, or they will work twice as hard for the rest of their lives.”

At San Jose’s high-poverty Overfelt High School, two-thirds of students who started four years ago have earned a diploma. Many of the “miracle” graduates heading for college grew up in immigrant families, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Jessica Nuñez, who started school speaking no English, won a scholarship to Berkeley.

Ruben Contreras Rios, 17, received a full scholarship to Santa Clara University, where he’ll major in mechanical and aerospace engineering. “The comfort he found in science and math, when ostracized as a new immigrant, is paying off.”

Juan Guzmán, who “retreated into books when classmates teased him for his immigrant accent and clothes, hopes to become a teacher like Natalia Baldwin, an Overfelt teacher.

With Baldwin’s encouragement, Cesar Torres raised his grades from F’s to A’s. He plans to study business at Chico State and become a billionaire, so his parents won’t have to get up at 4:30 a.m. to work long hours at tough jobs.

College prep for all relies on false data

Starting with the class of 2002, San Jose Unified raised its graduation requirements: All students must pass the college-prep courses required for admission to state universities. The rule doubled the percentage of university-eligible graduates — and nearly tripled college readiness rates for Latinos — the district reported. Inspired by San Jose’s success, other districts raised their graduation requirements. But requiring college prep classes didn’t work in San Jose, the Hechinger Report discovered. The numbers were fudged.

 For six years, the district misreported its results, counting seniors who were close to completing the college-prep requirements as having done so. San Jose claimed that the percentage of graduates who got at least a C in all these classes rose to nearly two-thirds from just over a third. The rate for Latino students rose to nearly 50% from 18.5%, and for black students to more than 50% from 27%, the district incorrectly reported.

After the district corrected its errors, the district reported only incremental progress that was comparable to school systems without the requirements. Of that class of 2011, a little more than a third completed the college-prep sequence.

In 2000, before the college-prep rule took effect, 40 percent of San Jose Unified graduates fulfilled state university admission requirements by earning C’s or better in college-prep courses known as the A-G sequence. In 2011, the number was 40.3 percent.  Of blacks and Latinos who entered high school in fall 2007, about 1 in 5 were eligible to apply to a state university four years later.

Students could graduate with D’s in college-prep courses, while state universities require at least a C. Failing students were transferred to alternative schools with lower expectations. Thanks to compassionate teachers and the D-, the dropout rate didn’t rise.

While San Jose Unified was claiming success, I was writing Our School, about a San Jose charter school’s fierce struggle to prepare low-income and working-class Latino kids for college. I wondered how kids who’d scored “below basic” on the state math exam were passing advanced algebra and chemistry.

Los Angeles Unified will require the class of 2016 to pass the A-G courses with a D or better, reports Hechinger. Next year’s ninth-graders must earn a C or better.

L.A. school officials said their program will include the support necessary to help students succeed. Supt. John Deasy has insisted that requiring students to get a C or better in these classes is necessary for a diploma to be meaningful and to ensure that low-income and minority students don’t have to settle for coursework that is “orange drink” rather than “orange juice.”

“This is all about a kid’s civil rights,” Deasy said. “I am confident in our students, that they will rise to the challenge.”

Meanwhile, Long Beach Unified also is trying to qualify more students for state universities. Instead of requiring A-G courses, Long Beach sets annual improvement targets for its schools. Only 25 percent of Latino students and 27 percent of black students were eligible for state universities in 2011. That’s not great — but it’s better than San Jose’s real numbers.

The elephant in the integrated classroom

Clashing parenting styles, cultures and expectations undermine school integration, writes Jennifer Burns Stillman in The Elephant in the Classroom in Education Next. She interviewed white, upper-middle-class parents in gentrifying neighborhoods about their school choices.

. . . white, upper-middle-class families prefer a progressive and discursive style of interaction with their children, both at home and in school, and lower-income, nonwhite families prefer a traditional or authoritarian style of interaction with their children in these same venues.

White parents who try an urban school and then leave cite overly strict discipline and  “near-constant yelling—from principals, teachers, school aides, and nonwhite parents who come to drop off and pick up their kids,” Stillman writes.

White parents who wanted to volunteer said principals and non-white parents saw them as pushy interlopers.

One principal was angry when white parents gave each teacher a $100 book card donated by Barnes & Noble, seeing it as “bribing” teachers. Parents called various principals “not the brightest bulb in the box,” “insane,” “crazy,” “incompetent.”

White parents didn’t do enough “ego stroking,” one mother said.  When parents offered to help out, “it came across as, ‘You’re broken and you need fixing,’ rather than, ‘We’ve got extra hands, we’ve got extra energy, let’s build up what you already have.’ ”

“Creating a successful, truly diverse charter school is enormously difficult to pull off, ” writes Alexander Russo, also in Ed Next. Students come with a wide range of abilities and background knowledge. Parents have different cultures and expectations.

. . . the list of strategies applied is a long one: frequent online assessments to diagnose and direct students to the appropriate activity; open-ended assignments allowing kids of varying skill levels to engage at their own levels; coteaching in which two teachers share responsibility for a group of kids; and looping, in which teachers follow kids from one grade to the next.

In one Brooklyn Prospect classroom, the English teacher makes as many of her lessons open-ended as she can and coteaches half of her classes with a special education teacher. She also offers additional uncredited projects called “Seekers” so that kids who want to can go faster without disadvantaging kids still working on basic skills.

“You can’t just put a heterogeneous population together and think it’s going to work,” Summit cofounder Donna Tavares tells Russo.

Mike Petrilli’s book, The Diverse School Dilemma, offers three ways to create integrated schools in newly gentrified neighborhoods.

Ed Sector: High standards help low achievers

High Standards Help Struggling Students, argues Education Sector in a new report. Using NAEP data, Connie Clark and Peter Cookson Jr. compare “below basic” students in states with low and high standards in 2003 and 2011.

In fourth-grade math, the percentage of below basic students, on average, declined 26 percent among high-standards states and 20 percent in low-standards states. In reading, the decline was narrower, with a 10 percent reduction in high-standards states, and 9 percent in low-standards states.

In eighth-grade math, the reduction in the percentage of below basic students was 23 percent in high-standards states. In low-standards states, the decline was 14 percent. In eighth grade reading, the decline was 10 percent in both cases.

A state’s economic health had no effect on the achievement gap, Clark and Cookson found.

States do not need to dilute Common Core State Standards or set lower expectations to help low achievers, the report concludes.

Hopeless

“Michael” was graduated from high school with no academic skills and unrealistic expectations. Now he’s at an open-admissions college, where he’s  trying hard, but failing. What can his instructor do?

Viscous?

Every student had a container with an unknown liquid and a chart listing various characteristics: bubbly? foamy? translucent? transparent? viscous? The teacher tried to walk the first graders through the science lesson.

I picked up the girl I’m tutoring, who can read “Sim hit the big fig” — with help on the Sim/Sam issue — but doesn’t know what a fig is. I said it was a purple fruit, but didn’t discuss its viscosity.

When I was in first grade, I learned to distinguish a maple leaf from an oak leaf. That was pretty much the whole science curriculum until we hit fifth grade, which featured the duck-billed platypus.

Teaching good behavior

Behavior Is One of the Basics at a Charleston middle school, reports Education Week. Every Haut Gap student spends 40 minutes a day for nine weeks learning how to “own up to mistakes, accept feedback, and apologize appropriately.” Those who don’t catch on take the class for 18 weeks.

The school’s approach, called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, is supposed to save time in academic classes. It’s also cut out-of-school suspensions significantly.

PBIS . . . emphasizes creating a common set of expectations for students’ behavior, no matter where they are on campus. The underlying premise: Schools must become predictable, consistent, positive, and safe environments for students.

“Creating that common set of expectations is really what creates a learning community. Culture makes a huge impact on the effectiveness of the school,” said Robert Horner, a co-director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and a special education professor at the University of Oregon, in Eugene.

PBIS is seen as a way to cut suspensions and expulsions, which are more common for African-American students, Latinos, boys, and students with disabilities.

However, a Johns Hopkins study found PBIS helped elementary students with “behavior problems, concentration problems, and social-emotional functioning.”  Not surprisingly, the younger it starts the better it works.

Florida sets lower goals for blacks, Hispanics

Florida’s race-based achievement goals are raising hackles, reports the Palm Beach Post. To qualify for a No Child Left Behind waiver, the state board of education set new goals based on race, ethnicity, poverty and disabilities.

. . .  by 2018, it wants 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of black students to be reading at or above grade level. For math, the goals are 92 percent of Asian kids proficient, whites at 86 percent, Hispanics at 80 percent and blacks at 74 percent.

The new goals are realistic, state education officials said. Blacks and Hispanics will have to improve at faster rates than whites or Asians.

. . .  the percentage of white students scoring at or above grade level (as measured by whether they scored a 3 or higher on the reading FCAT) was 69 percent in 2011-2012, according to the state. For black students, it was 38 percent, and for Hispanics, it was 53 percent.

If each subgroup follows the trajectory in the strategic plan, all students will be 100 percent proficient by the 2022-2023 school year, according to the state education department.

Most of the states applying for NCLB waivers have set lower goals for black, Hispanic, low-income and disabled students. As long as the goals require low-scoring groups to improve more quickly, the U.S. Education Department has endorsed differential targets.

College readiness isn’t just academic

Even if they’re prepared academically for college, many students don’t understand college expectations, behaviors and attitudes, researchers say. What does it mean to “study hard” or “come prepared” to class? Students are used to high school teachers who tell students exactly what to do — and let them slide if they don’t do it.

Culture clash in the classroom

Lisa Delpit’s Multiplication Is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children argues that “low performance begins with American racism,” writes Mark Bauerlein in Ed Next.

Black males perform poorly because “our young men have internalized all of the negative stereotypes.” Sometimes black students are invisible, unnoticed, and disrespected, and sometimes they are “hypervisible,” their normal youth behaviors magnified into pathologies. They end up estranged from school culture (“disidentification”), mistrusting their own capacities and fulfilling belittling expectations.

. . . The classroom is a white, middle-class space often hostile to African American norms. It downplays collaboration, she notes, even though these students need it to “feel more secure and less vulnerable.” It ignores past contributions to learning and science by African Americans. It neglects spirituality, whereas “traditional African education” incorporates “education for the spirit” into everyday lessons.

The demoralization is demonstrated by a middle schooler who announces, “Black people don’t multiply; black people just add and subtract. White people multiply.”

“The clash of school culture with African American out-of-school culture” is a significant problem, Bauerlein writes, but he’s not persuaded that cultural sensitivity is sufficient to produce high performance.

Delpit lauds a math lesson based on racial profiling. A student says, “Now I realize that you could use math to defend your rights and realize the injustices around you.”

Bauerlein is skeptical:

But what about the math scores those students attain in 12th grade? What grades do they get in first-year college calculus? Delpit claims that schools impart the message that “you must give up identifiably African American norms in order to succeed,” but she never shows that embracing those norms produces higher college enrollment or workplace readiness.

The “no excuses” schools explicitly teach school culture — aim high, work hard, show respect, don’t quit– to low-income black and Hispanic students. Inner-city Catholic schools often do the same, writes Patrick McCloskey in The Street Stops Here. Students may embrace street culture when they walk out the door — they may need to — but not in school.

Here’s an Ed Week interview with Delpit.